I note the passing of Nashville legend Jack Clement, known to everyone as "Cowboy,"
today at the age of 82. Cowboy was one of the greatest record producers in the history of the business, an eclectic genius prone to great flights of fantasy and creating breath-taking music. He was also my friend, one of the subjects of my first book, and a man who taught me much of what I know about music.
Here's his USA Today obit, which is pretty good.
I recall sitting next to him on at the little sound board at his house, The Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa, while he worked with the music of friends like John Prine or Townes Van Zant who just dropped by to pick a little. Sometimes Cowboy would just tell stories, like when Bono and The Edge from U2 showed up on his porch to ask him to produce and he didn't know who they were, or what it was like in the studio at Sun Records recording Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, or sometimes Johnny Cash would come by with his own stories. Every so often Cowboy would play a track, then ask me, "What do you hear, Michael?" I'd make some idiot remark about bringing up the bass line or adding some "sweetening," and he'd just shake his head sadly.
"No, Michael...what do you hear?"
Because more than the music, Cowboy heard the essential truth behind the music, the connection to all the music that has gone before and all that will follow. And that truth was the centerpiece of his life.
I once asked Sam Phillips, "Mr. Sam," the founder of Sun Records, about Cowboy in the early days. Mr. Sam just shook his head and laugh. "That was a crazy man," he said, "but he could sure hear the music."
Cowboy and I were talking about hit records once, and he said, "You know, it's not that hard, Michael. The friends and neighbors will always tell you what they want, and the friends and neighbors are always right."
When asked my the Nashville Tennessean about what it takes to make it to the Country Music Hall of Fame, Cowboy said, "Trying to do something that hans't been done before is good,"
Go with God, my friend.
I will have a tribute to the music of "Cowboy" Jack Clement on Wednesday's podcast.